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Minn-Dak Farmers Cooperative of Wahpeton, N.D., again is asking co-op members to identify 15 percent of acres they might have to leave unharvested, due to yield estimates that have ballooned to 32 tons. That’s on top of a 17 percent acreage cut this year, prompted by rising yields. Photo taken near Wahpeton, N.D., on Sept. 6, 2017. (Forum News Service/Agweek/Mikkel Pates)

Minn-Dak starts pre-pile

WAHPETON, N.D. — Minn-Dak Farmers Cooperative started its pre-pile harvest on Monday, Sept. 11, and its processing "slice" campaign on Sept. 13.

The Wahpeton, N.D., based co-op had set its planting limits at 17 percent less than last year. On Aug. 23, management informed shareholders they would have to prepare for an "initial corral" of additional 15 percent of planted acres that may need to be destroyed by leaving them in the field to keep the crop in line with storage and processing capacity.

Kurt Wickstrom, Minn-Dak's president and chief executive officer, said growers were affected by heat in the early going. The co-op allowed harvesting only from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. for the first four days, and none on Sept. 15. The company attempts to keep three to five days of supply on hand in the pre-pile harvest.

Shareholders were initially reporting yields of 24 to 30 tons per acre, and the co-op is expecting an average of 31.9 tons per acre, a figure that could get larger if there is above-normal rain.

Wickstrom said the slice campaign is off to a good start. The 2016 crop slice was extended to June 6, so that meant maintenance of the plant went later to accomplish its full 95-day summer maintenance program.

Minn-Dak has made changes to overcome processing difficulties in the past two crops.

In 2015 the company had to discard significant tons because they couldn't store it due to warm winter and poor storage conditions. In 2016 a large crop with low sugar content and average quality led to difficult processing again.

In the past few months, the co-op has replaced its top three operations managers. The company named Paul Fry as vice president of operations in April, Luke Rust as director of operations in early May, and Pat Leinen, maintenance superintendent, in early May.

Wickstrom said he's been pleased with the summer maintenance results. He says the processing campaign should be limited to 260 days, compared to the 297-day campaign last year.

Another bright spot is that growers were aggressive in managing cercospora leaf spot, a yield-robbing disease which was widespread in 2016, Wickstrom said. Most growers sprayed for cercospora five times, and some six times. That has resulted in improving sugar content and beet quality.

American Crystal Sugar Co. of Moorhead, Minn., also is in its pre-pile campaign and has asked growers to identify 15 percent of acres that may not be able to be harvested to keep storage in line with processing capacity of its five factories in the Red River Valley.